Spinelli first decided he wanted to become a writer at the age of 16, when his high school football team won a big game. He wrote a poem about this, and two days later the poem was published in the local newspaper.
Inspiration Spinelli's writing direction changed one night when one of his six children ate some fried chicken that he had been saving for the next day. Spinelli wrote about this event. Eventually, what he wrote turned into his first published novel, Space Station Seventh Grade.
His first book for children, Space Station Seventh Grade, was published in 1982. In 1990, Spinelli won both the Newbery Medal and the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for his novel Maniac Magee.
Click! Click on the picture to see other books written by Spinelli.
STOP and WRITE 1. If you decided to run away, where would you go? Where would you sleep? What would you tell people at school?
What inspired you to write Maniac Magee? Actually, there was no particular inspiration – it was time to start a new book, and I thought I'd like to write a book about a kid who was a hero to other kids. That was the starting point. Then I shopped around in my notes and in my head for any ideas that seemed to fit into that original idea.
Where did the idea for Maniac Magee come from? A: I get my ideas from everyday life, memories, and imagination—and that probably covers everything. Maniac Magee was a patchwork quilt of memories and observations that I stitched together, some of it dreamed up and some of it based on people I’ve known and situations I’ve been in. For example, I did meet a sixth grade girl in New York City once who brought her books to school every day in a suitcase. She became the basis for Amanda Beale.
Did you ever know someone like Maniac Magee? To some extent Maniac resembles myself, particularly in reference to his attitude to folks of different races getting along. And his athletic abilities were inspired by an old friend of mine that I grew up with. Basically he's a patchwork of memories and imagination.
Were you raised by a black family like the kid in Maniac Magee? No, but I did play with a lot of African-American kids, and that was part of my inspiration for the theme of the book.
What college did you go to? What did you major in? I went to Gettysburg College, where the famous Civil War battle was fought. I majored in English. I would've liked to major in writing, but they didn't offer a major in that.
What made you grow up to be a writer? I seem to have a natural tendency to want to share my own observations and feelings with other people, and writing seems to be the way I'm best equipped to do that.
STOP and Write 2. Do you have a nickname? Do you like your nickname? Why or why not?
Who will we meet? Jeffrey Lionel Magee (Maniac), a homeless boy about twelve years old; orphaned in a freak accident, he often leeps at the zoo and runs all over the town of Two Mills; he has remarkable powers. Amanda Beale, an African American girl about Maniac’s age who befriends him and brings him to her home.
Giant John McNab, a twelve-year-old boy who lives in the white West End of Two Mills; huge for his age; a legendary baseball pitcher. Mars Bar Thompson, an African American boy about Maniac’s age who is powerful in the black East End but doesn’t dare go into the white West End.
Mrs. Beale, Amanda’s mother; becomes a second mother to Maniac. Hester and Lester Beale, Amanda’s four-year-old sister and three-year-old brother; they adore Maniac.
Earl Grayson, an elderly white ex–baseball player who finds Maniac and helps him set up a home in the baseball equipment room. Russell and Piper McNab, John McNab’s pesky little brothers; they idolize Maniac.
STOP and Write Write down – 3 predictions about Maniac Magee. 2 facts you know about the author. and 1 thing you would like to know about Maniac.